How Are Americans Getting Fitter and Fatter at the Same Time?

Written by Katherine Martinko

The United States faces a fitness paradox right now. If people are exercising more, as they claim to be, then why is it not doing anything for their waistlines? Obesity continues to affect one-third of Americans, despite increased levels of exercise.

In order to find out how much Americans are exercising, the University of Washington conducted a study based on thousands of responses collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of women who exercise ‘sufficiently’ rose from 50.7 percent in 2001 to 59.2 percent in 2011. For men, it rose from 59.4 percent to 61.3 percent. And yet, for every percentage point increase in exercise, there was only a 0.11 percent lower likelihood of obesity, and obesity rates overall have risen during the decade of study. Clearly something isn’t adding up.

Perhaps the problem lies in the definition of ‘sufficient exercise.’ The study stated that “150 minutes of moderate activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity” were considered sufficient. Five 30-minute walks (for example, walking 15 minutes to and from work each day) is beneficial, but it’s likely not intense enough to melt away extra pounds. The study also relied on self-reporting, which can be an unreliable source of information. A person may think they’re exercising vigorously when they’re not.

More important, though, is the question of diet. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that exercise is almost pointless if a person doesn’t eat nutritiously. Engaging in 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week will accomplish little if someone continues to eat large quantities of greasy, salty processed food, high-glycemic carbohydrates, and sugar. It’s impossible to isolate exercise from diet when trying to lose weight, and inevitably there comes a point when a poor diet will inhibit progress, no matter how much a person exercises.

The University of Washington study agrees that problems with diet need to be addressed in order for exercise to fully benefit people:

“Our study showed that increased physical activity alone has a small impact on obesity prevalence at the county level in the U.S. Other changes such as reduction in caloric intake are likely needed to curb the obesity epidemic and its burden.”

I don’t think the number of calories matters so much as the kind of calories, because not all calories are created equal. If more people adjusted their diets to focus on healthy-sized portions of fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, lean meats or fish, nuts and seeds, I suspect obesity rates would plummet in the U.S., even if exercise rates didn’t increase significantly. Like it or not, it all starts with nutrition.

This post was originally published in TreeHugger

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa2 years ago

Thank you

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa3 years ago

Thank you :)

Kitty Heardman
Kitty Heardman3 years ago

thank you

Rhonda Bird
Rhonda B3 years ago

thank you.

Kirsten P.
Kirsten P3 years ago

Interesting article. It is true that exercise can only take weight management so far. If you are working out three times a week and eating cheeseburgers four times a week, you are likely not going to get ahead. It is really tough to strike a good balance in the world we live in.

Frans Badenhorst
Frans Badenhorst3 years ago

your body knows what is good for it, just listen to to it

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se3 years ago


Scott haakon
Scott haakon3 years ago

Many studies are not accurate. mere pounds do not revel anything. Well fed people are taller and bigger. Athletes are often heavier. Yet look slimmer. The answer will be in genetic engineering because humans burn muscle on diets rather than fat first. This seems to have no survival advantage but what id does is make it easy to gain back fat not muscle.


I agree that it is not always right to judge a person if they seem to carry more than the amount of weight that is fashionable as sometimes people with more adipose tissue can have wonderful hearts and low colesterol! Naturally they can't be eating great mounds of fatty food to be that size. Some people just ARE more weighty! That is an entirely diffeernt matter to being totally obese! Exercise has to be just enough to speed your metabolism and make muscle, but not enough to make you starving hungry so you eat like a hunter each time you exercise! Also, people who are overweight are often always dieting and have slowed their metabolism and their brains have even gone into starvation mode and hang on to every ounce of fat! What you eat is JUST as important as exercise, but if you are exercising and eating well and not losing weight it might be a good idea to do your own research and see what other natural methods there are out there to try and speed up your metabolism without totally giving yourself an aneurysm doing outrageous and unrealistic amounts of exercise!